Unfair airline contracts and excessive flight change fees could soon be a thing of the past. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has vowed to take on Australia’s airlines to ensure greater consumer protections. According to the ACCC, airline contracts are currently too one-sided in the airline’s favour.
The ACCC identified 3 key issues in its preliminary report on Airline Terms & Conditions last month. These relate to fares being advertised as non-refundable, excessive cancellation fees and a lack of compensation provided to passengers when flights are cancelled or delayed.
In its report, the ACCC found that “there appears to be an imbalance in rights between consumers and the Airlines, and the Airlines are entitled to make unlimited changes whereas the consumer is financially penalised for making even minor adjustments.”
One particular area of concern is airlines advertising fares as “non-refundable”. Under Australian Consumer Law, customers may in fact by entitled to a refund under some circumstances. For example, if the airline cancels the flight and fails to offer an adequate alternative. Jetstar, similarly, states that all Starter fare add-ons are non-refundable. But in cases where paid add-ons such as meals or entertainment are not provided, customers are legally entitled to a refund.
Other concerns identified by the ACCC include:
- Customers being charged for flight changes forced by the airline’s actions
- Travel vouchers being offered instead of refunds
- In cases of last-minute flight cancellations, customers not being compensated for the cost of booking a new flight on another airline
On the whole, our members are pleased to see the ACCC stepping in. Unfair airline contracts have become a large problem and our members feel that some changes are needed.
But some believe more needs to be done. One member would like to see regulations in Australia similar to the European Union’s consumer-friendly EU261 laws. These regulations guarantee compensation to passengers caught out by lengthy delays, flight cancellations or overbooking.
One member would like the ACCC to address unfair airline contracts relating to involuntary downgrades. For example, Qantas passengers that are involuntarily downgraded from Business to Economy class are only compensated the difference between their Business class airfare and the price of the most expensive Economy fare – even if much cheaper Economy fares were available when the customer purchased their ticket.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: “Airlines need to comply with consumer law” – ACCC